A Cartoon Expedition to California

Comic books have been around longer than you might think, and the California Gold Rush of 1849 proved to be a gold mine (so to speak) for satiric artists. One of the most entertaining is called Outline History of an Expedition to California, Containing the Fate of the All You Can Get Mining Association by an author-illustrator calling himself XOX. The title page illustration bears the name S.F. Baker at the lower right, so perhaps that was his name.

It has a great title page — very Gorey-esque.

Yale University Library

The story concerns a young New England merchant named Jonathan Swapwell who gets gold fever and joins a company of would-be miners headed for California. The mining association splits up into three groups: one goes by way of Cape Horn, one goes the Panama route, and one travels overland, giving the artist the opportunity to depict the perils of each. Which route Jonathan takes isn’t clear, but he ends up in California and makes a living selling good to miners.

Yale University Library

Jonathan overhears a plan to rob his store, so he and his partner Pat (a cartoon Irishman) pack up their gold and go to San Francisco to catch the next steamer home. Meanwhile, the men who took the Panama route are still waiting for a boat on the Pacific side of the Isthmus.

Yale University Library

The comic strip tale is bookended by two panels that frame the story. The opening panel shows Death and the Devil laying a trap in California to lure men to their deaths.

Yale University Library

The closing panel shows the two filling the large cavity left in the land with the bones of the deceased.

Yale University Library

You can view the entire book courtesy of Yale University Library.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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